Having a top quality drone gimbal is essential to capturing great aerial film, photography, 3D mapping, lidar, photogrammetry and other sensor driven imagery. For drones to be used widely across different sectors, it is essential that UAV gimbal stabilization technology keeps in line with drone innovation. This is very much the case so far.
This post looks at all the drone components along with their role. From 3-axis brushless motors, GNU, IMU and anti-vibration dampers, you will find plenty of very useful knowledge. We also take a look at the best drone gimbal manufacturers in the business plus a quality drone gimbal videos.
Now, when it comes to drone gimbal innovation, we are finding that the 3rd party manufacturers of cameras and sensors (cameras, lidar, thermal, ultrasound etc) are playing catch up with the drone and gimbal innovation to date.
Drone manufacturers such as DJI, Yuneec and Walkera are not waiting around and have filled this gap by producing their own integrated gimbal / cameras.
DJI have also partnered with Flir to create the Zenmuse XT gimbal which has a thermal sensor for their Inspire 1 drone.
We are getting to the point where we have almost perfect flight and gimbal stability even in very blustery conditions. This flight and gimbal stabilization is the result of big improvements in all drone components including the software controlling these components.
Briefly – What Is A Drone Gimbal?
A gimbal whether handheld or mounted on a drone is designed to give the camera operator the independence of photographing or filming without camera vibration or shake. Generally powered by three brushless motors (3-axis), the gimbal has the ability to keep the camera level on all axes (pan, roll, tilt) as the operator moves the camera. An inertial measurement unit (IMU) responds to movement and utilizes its three separate motors to stabilize the camera.
With the guidance of algorithms, the stabilizer is able to notice the difference between deliberate movement such as pans and tracking shots from unwanted shake. This allows the camera to seem as if it is floating through the air.
Total Control Aerial Filming Platforms
Drone flight control systems and aerial gimbal innovation has moved swiftly over the past 2 years. Just a few short years ago, you had very little control of the camera mounted on a drone. You would have to switch on the camera and set it to record before take off. You had no control of the gimbal or camera after take off.
Not any more. Practically all the latest drones have the gimbal and camera integrated into the flight control system and can easily be controlled by the remote control ground station. You now have first person view along with live video downlink which can also be streamed straight to YouTube.
Drone Gimbal Parts Overview
This below drawing is of the DJI Zenmuse Z15-5D III (HD) gimbal and is suitable for the Canon 5D Mark III camera. Most aerial gimbals are similar so this Zenmuse Z15 so if you understand these components you will know your way around most UAV gimbals on the market.
2 or 3-Axis Drone Gimbal
3-axis gimbals provide better video stability than 2-axis gimbals. This is because 3-axis gimbals stabilize your video on all 3 axis (yaw, pitch and roll) while a 2-axis gimbal will stabilize only on the pitch and roll axis.
Jittery horizontal, jello or rolling shutter movement, is more obvious in videos taken using a 2-axis gimbal due to the lack of stabilization in the yaw axis.
3-axis gimbals are able to greatly reduce and sometimes completely eliminate jello due to the third motor which helps absorb unwanted movement in the yaw axis. However, 3-axis gimbals are heavier and more expensive than their 2-axis counterparts. They also draw more battery power due to having more motors.
Gimbal Brushless Motors And Angles
3 x Servo Driver Modules (Pan, Roll, Tilt) to power the gimbal. Most drones gimbals components including the motors are designed for a particular camera or sensor. This design method achieves almost perfect filming because the gimbal has been fine-tuned to the weight and balance of the individual camera.
Almost all drone gimbals today are powered today by brushless motors. At the very basics of motor design, the difference between a brushed and brushless is a dead giveaway. Brushless motors lack brushes. However, their design differences are a bit more sophisticated. A brushless motor mounts its permanent magnets, usually four or more, around the perimeter of the rotor in a cross pattern.
Efficiency is a primary selling feature for brushless motors. Because the rotor is the sole bearer of the magnets, it requires no power, i.e., no connections, no commutator, and no brushes. In place of these, the motor employs control circuitry.
Drone Gimbal Axis Movements
Pan (Yaw): A yaw motion is a lateral side to side movement of the gimbal / camera to the left or right. Most drone gimbals have 360 degree movement. If you have a drone with retractable arms, then you have a full 360 degree of unobstructed views. The DJI Inspire 1 and Walkera Voyager 3 drones have retractable arms.
Roll: A positive roll angle lifts the gimbal / camera to the left or right. The Zenmuse Z15 above has a +-15 degrees of roll movement.
Tilt (Pitch): An up and down movement of the gimbal and camera. In the above gimbal diagram we can see this has a -90 to +15 degree of movement.
Top Aerial Cinematography Angles
Our modern drones fly on all 3 axis. Together with the ability to control the drone gimbal and camera on all 3 axis, we now have total control over our aerial cinematography views. In just a few years, the latest flight control systems along with excellent stabilized gimbals has gave us perfect aerial film quality.
Damping Anti-Vibration Absorber
These units have the very important function of reducing or damping the medium to high vibration frequencies from the drone reaching the camera while still allowing low frequency actual board movement to take place in conjunction with the drone frame.
Some d-i-y anti-vibration dampers are made from foam, rubber balls and even ear plugs. However, these are a very vital piece of equipment and don’t cost a lot of money so it is probably a good idea to have the best dampers you can afford.
A professionally made gimbal damper will be made with carbon fiber with anti-vibration plate with 4 rubber balls specifically designed for the gimbal.
Drone Gimbal IMU
Most drone gimbals including the Zenmuse Z15 above have an inbuilt IMU (inertial measurement unit). This Zenmuse also has an extra inbuilt infrared module. The gimbal IMU uses programmed algorithms which create almost total stabilization and give effortless control to the operator. Because the IMU is built in, your gimbal requires no extra equipment or wiring while reducing weight and allowing you to start capturing film faster. The shutter can be controlled remotely by an infrared receiver.
The IMU can be misaligned over time or even straight out the box. With the correct angle of view, the camera should film the horizon with a straight line. When it is misaligned, you can have horizon tilt problems. There are a number of ways to fix this including calibrating the gimbal and drone IMU. Read about this Phantom 3 angled horizon problem.
Taking a step back, an IMU (inertial measurement unit) is an electronic device which measures and reports a body’s specific force, angular rate and sometimes the magnetic field surrounding the body, using a combination of accelerometers and gyroscopes, sometimes also magnetometers. In this capacity, the data collected from the IMU sensors allows a computer to track the UAV or aircraft’s position.
Drone Gimbal Control Unit (GCU)
The Gimbal Control Unit also referred to as a GCU, is essentially a simple computer that takes data from the gyros and responds by telling the gimbal motors which way to move.
The GCU module connects and communicates with the Flight Control System to help control the gimbal. At the same time, it outputs video information to the video downlink for video transmission. This wiki page shows you how to connect the Zenmuse GH4-HD GCU wiring to the flight controller.
Cameras and Sensors
All the above mentioned parts are no good without the camera or sensor to capture the aerial photography, film or 3D imagery. The gimbal should come with the correct mounts, screws and cables to connect the camera to the gimbal and control unit.
Supporting Components For Gimbal / Camera
Devices such as the IOSD Mark II have an built-in BEC module which supports 3S – 6S LiPo battery. It provides the power supply for the camera and the main controller, which improves the power supply reliability.
When devices such as the DJI IOSD MARK II are used in conjunction with the flight controllers, you will get an even better and more stable flying experience which means less vibration moving towards the gimbal and camera.
Drone Gimbal Manufacturers
DJI, 3DR, Walkera, Yuneec Gimbals
What we are seeing in 2015 is a lot of gimbals made specific for cameras and sensors.
DJI’s Zenmuse range are all designed for specific cameras such as Canon, Panasonic and Sony. Their latest Phantom 4 Pro, it’s predecessor the Phantom 3 and Inspire 1 drones have integrated the cameras as part of the gimbal.
This year DJI moved beyond gimbals for cameras and now have the Zenmuse XT gimbal which carries a FLIR thermal sensor.
The SOLO drone from 3DR was specifically designed with the GoPro Hero 4 camera in mind. Yuneec and Walkera Technology also design their own gimbals for their drone models. However, 3DR have now discontinued manufacturing the SOLO drone.
Now, lets take a look at some terrific drone gimbal videos.
This first video below shows you the latest and most innovative drone gimbal on the market. It’s the Zenmuse X5 series which fits the DJI Inspire 1 drone.
The Zenmuse X5 Series cameras has a large Micro Four Thirds sensor and captures incredibly detailed 16 megapixel photos and 4k video. The Zenmuse X5R also records lossless 4K video in Cinema DNG RAW format and comes with a 512GB mini-SSD drive for media storage.
The next video takes a look at 3DR Solo Drone with it’s specifically designed gimbal for the GoPro cameras.
This final video, shows you the Yuneec Typhoon H 4k camera drone. The drone has a camera mounted on a gimbal that can spin 360 degrees, landing struts that move out of the way and several automated flight features.